By Mary Wisniewski

CHICAGO (Reuters) - A federal appeals court on Friday struck down a Michigan law that banned affirmative action in college admissions, creating the possibility of a U.S. Supreme Court battle.

The 6th U.S. Circuit of Appeals, in a 2-1 decision, found that a 2006 amendment to the Michigan constitution, "unconstitutionally alters Michigan's political structure by impermissibly burdening racial minorities."

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said he will appeal the ruling through a formal request for a rehearing by the entire 6th Circuit. The law, known as the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, will stay in effect pending a final decision.

"Entrance to our great universities must be based upon merit, and I will continue the fight for equality, fairness and rule of law," said Schuette in a statement.

George Washington, a Detroit attorney who represented a civil rights group opposing the law, said Michigan universities already give special consideration in admissions to certain groups of students, including those from rural backgrounds, those with lower incomes, and veterans.

What the law does is prohibit racial and ethnic minorities from asking for the same consideration in admissions as other groups, Washington said.

"What Proposal 2 does is say that for one group and one group alone, you can't follow that procedure," Washington said. He expects the case will go to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Appellate Court Judge R. Guy Cole wrote in the majority decision that the U.S. Supreme Court has twice held that the equal protection clause in the U.S. Constitution does not permit the kind of "political restructuring" caused by the Michigan law.

In her dissent, Appellate Judge Julia Smith Gibbons wrote that Proposal 2 does not draw distinctions on the basis of race but "in fact, it prohibits them."

The fight over affirmative action policies at Michigan's public colleges and universities began in the 1960s and 1970s, when African-American and other minority students first successfully lobbied for the policies' adoption.

The U.S. Supreme Court held in 2003 that universities cannot establish quotas for members of certain racial groups, but may consider race or ethnicity as a "plus" factor along with other factors.

(Editing by Jerry Norton)

Source: Reuters US Online Report Domestic News